How To Find Freedom From Too Many Christmas Gifts

Toys. Electronics. Games. Bikes.

Clothes. Shoes. Entertainment. Gift cards.

Extravagance. Indulgence. Lavishness. Excess.

Christmas in America.

I love giving gifts and seeing joy come to the recipient's face. To find that one perfect present, just rings my bell. But I could over buy Christmas gifts, especially for my kids,  quicker than I could overload my dinner plate at a buffet.

And the process...

-guessing sizes
-credit cards

Excuse me- I need to go take an aspirin just thinking about it. Pursuing the perfect gift does NOT ring my bell.

The worst Christmases are the years of THE gift... the one in the news... the one EVERYBODY HAS to get this year because your kid's existence will be incomplete without the new gaming system or the stuffed animal that talks. It doesn't matter if your child will use it, you just want them to HAVE it.

When did Christmas go crazy? When did it lose its grip on reality? I wonder if as Jesus has declined in popularity, the gift extravagance increased?

What Did Jesus Get?

If all Jesus received was three gifts...

If all Jesus received was three gifts...

When I had seven children at home, and a military household budget,  I started dreading Christmas by about September.

I needed help and a solution. I wanted a joyous holiday for our family, without debt. And what do you know, I found the answer in the manager.

3 wise men. 3 gifts.
For the King of Universe.
Hmmmm. That gave me an idea.

So I announced to my gift-desiring hoards: 

"Kids, we are doing something different this year. Since Jesus received only three gifts, we are going to do that too."

Looks of shock, fear, and confusion.

"You can still give me your lists, but this year you are getting three gifts and they will consist of a want, a need, and a surprise."


I made my escape quickly to avoid the clamor that might arise once the shock wore off. However, no riots broke out. The kids adjusted just fine.

-Parenting hint: make announcements with a clear, confident voice, a steady eye, a steel backbone, and a smile. A loving, kind, immovable piece of concrete encourages compliance.

The Three Gifts

This is how I  categorized the three gifts. Every year the kids received one present from each category. I marked each package with the category as well. It became fun over the years for the kids to try and guess what was inside.

  1. The Want
    This gift usually came right off their list, or it was an item I heard them referring to during the year. Having to choose just one thing forced me to concentrate on that child to a new degree. What was the one thing that would mean the most?
  2. The Need
    I gave them something they needed, but not something that wouldn't feel like a gift. No matter how badly they needed underwear, that would not fill this category. (although they usually got that in their stocking) But it was practical and useful- a coat, book, calculator, sports equipment, supplies for a hobby. Once again, this forced me to focus on the child to find a meaningful item that would fulfill a need in their life.
  3. The Surprise
    This one was the most fun; and the most difficult. What would light this kid up and be unexpected? I listened all year for hints to what would be meaningful. Or I could find something totally off the wall and really "surprise" them.


  1. Stayed in budget
    I had a budget per child and I could divide it up as needed. If the "surprise" gift was expensive then I would buy cheaper gifts in the other two categories. Keeping up with a budget when just accounting for three items worked for my non-math brain.
  2. Listened to my kids
    Once this method became entrenched, I started to listening for clues for good ideas. It helped me know my kids better and what really made them tick. I wasn't buying gifts because of what the neighbors or cousins were getting. I wasn't buying for the silly, current trend. I HAD to buy for this particular child because he/she was only getting three things.
  3. They enjoyed it
    It was fun for them to anticipate what would be the item in each category. It quickly became a fun family tradition.
  4. Stockings were more fun
    Stocking gifts were separate from the "3" so we started concentrating on that time of Christmas morning. My favorite memories are the kids gathered around still in the pj's and messy hair, with their stockings, gladly opening socks, and candy, and little surprises.
  5. Slowed the morning
    When there are piles and piles of gifts under the tree, there is a lot of work to do to get them all open. Everyone tears into the wrapping, in a whirlwind of activity. Kids can barely enjoy what they just opened because of the anticipation for what is next. When there are just three gifts, it is easier to slowly savor.
  6. Avoid the post-gift meltdown
    There is this point when all the over-abundance of gifts have been opened (in a matter of moments), paper is strewn across the living room, and kids look at each other's gifts to see if their siblings received something better.  Sugar has most likely been consumed to add to the fun. All this over stimulation is like a dam waiting to burst. And when the dam bursts, watch out- it is going to get ugly.
  7. Avoided spending $100s and all they play with is the box
    This is self-explanatory. And infuriating. And puzzling. But seriously- get your toddlers large packing boxes with nothing in them and they will probably be happy.

With my kids now older and most of them married, this three-gift-system has faded. I am now finding a new normal. But I am so grateful for the freedom the "want, need, and surprise" gave me through my kid's childhood. I think it helped all of us de-emphasize gifts at Christmas and instead focus on each other and Jesus.

If you find yourself stressed over Christmas, why don't you tell the kids how many gifts Jesus received and let them know they are going to get the same? Just try it one year and see how it goes. 

Bring back the joy of Christmas.
Relieve the stress of the holiday.

Welcome the Savior in the manager with His three gifts. He fulfills every want and each need. And He is our very best surprise.